Si Tian Guan Chapter 119

Chapter 119: Spring Banquet

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This year’s Spring Banquet was held in the Western Garden, during the season when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, making it the most beautiful spring scenery of the year.

Even though Liu Zhongming was used to being late, he didn’t dare to make a fuss at the Spring Banquet. He woke up before dawn, not because he was afraid of being late, but because he was worried.

Qu Chenzhou watched him sitting steadily in the carriage, but his fingers curled and stretched repeatedly in his arms. He knew that Zhongming was anxious.

These small habits were all things he had learned from Zhongming.

“Shizi,” he comforted in a soft voice, “don’t worry, I will do my best to protect Madam Bai.”

Liu Zhongming looked at him, hesitating to speak.

The regular guests at the Spring Banquet knew the rules. Whether it was General Bai, Marquis Liu, or himself and the Bai brothers, they all had their own social occasions to attend. Madam Bai was accompanied by her maids and mingled with the ladies of the court. She couldn’t stay with them.

The imperial guards were also not allowed to enter the Western Garden, no matter which family they belonged to.

They had considered keeping Madam Bai from attending the Spring Banquet, but Qu Chenzhou did not agree.

They had already accepted the invitation from the palace, so how could they refuse to go? Moreover, the divination only mentioned this day and did not specify where the accident might happen.

The divination was ambiguous, so there might still be room for reversal.

In the end, Qu Chenzhou made the decision himself. On the day of the Spring Banquet, he would have another chance to divine for Madam Bai. He would accompany her and be able to take measures to prevent any harm.

The strong objections from Bai Shining and Liu Zhongming were all rejected by him.

If he didn’t take the risk to try, Madam Bai would probably not escape the disaster of bloodshed. If he just watched Madam Bai encounter any accidents, he would bear the blame even if he died a hundred times.

“Don’t worry about me, Shizi. Haven’t we already made a deal with General Bai? I can protect Madam Bai, and you can protect me.”

It’s natural to worry about the unknown, but Qu Chenzhou wasn’t as anxious as those two.

When he fought alone and had no one to rely on, he could still squeeze through the cracks of death time and time again. Now that someone was protecting him from behind, he can fight forward without any worries. What else is there to worry about?

Liu Zhongming felt even more guilty and dared not look into Qu Chenzhou’s eyes. “Chenzhou, I…”

“If Shizi had these eyes of mine, he would do the same, and maybe even more.” Qu Chenzhou played with his hair tie and asked, “If Shizi feels uneasy, do you mind if I ask for a huge sum of money for this trip?”

He was so calm and composed that Liu Zhongming felt even more superfluous when he became more depressed.

“What do you want?”

Qu Chenzhou leaned against the soft couch like a cat that loves to ignore people, with his beautiful eyes slightly tilted, pretending to be frivolous and asked back, “How about giving me the rich Shizi?”

The words sounded like a joke, but Liu Zhongming couldn’t bear not to take it seriously, and his ears instantly turned red.

To him, Qu Chenzhou was a flower blooming in the high mountains and snow.

When he didn’t get it, he was crazy to possess it. Now that the flower has fallen and is hovering in his palm where he can almost touch it, he dared not breathe for fear of blowing it away or crushing it.

He both wanted to hold the person in his hands devoutly and worship them, and also wanted to crush them in his hands and desecrate them wantonly.

“Don’t want to give it to me?”

On the contrary, Qu Chenzhou was the opposite of him. He used to be cold and aloof, but now he liked to tease him, saying ambiguous words that made him unsure of what to do. He knew exactly how to get him annoyed.

“There is no wealth at home,” he sat down on the soft couch opposite, leaving a space for him, “A poor Shizi, do you want it?”

“What’s wrong? Did Shizi gamble with someone again? I’ll help you win it back.”

Liu Zhongming leaned down, and the sachet around his waist pressed between them.

He never liked wearing this thing before, but this year the sycamore trees bloomed many buds, and Qu Chenzhou insisted on pushing him up to pick some.

Thinking of him, a marquis’s son, actually…unable to resist climbing trees.

By the time he came back at night, the buds had turned into fragrant paste, with a strange but pleasant smell.

“Shizi’s Consort is as fond of money as his own life, holding it tightly in his hands. I only get a few taels of silver per month, yet you want more?”

The sachet was uncomfortable, and Qu Chenzhou leaned sideways, making room for him and replying, “I can eat a little less.”

Liu Zhongming chuckled silently, leaning towards him.

Qu Chenzhou remained still, but his eyes flickered, his throat bobbing as if swallowing saliva.

Liu Zhongming wanted to laugh. He could see that the little fox was afraid of being bullied.

Once he showed any fear or weakness, Qu Chenzhou would become smug and fierce.

If he really tried to force himself on Qu Chenzhou, the little fox would obediently fall to the ground and look at him with wet eyes.

It was like begging for mercy, but even more like expecting something.

Between advances and retreats, they seemed to have been getting along like this for many years.

“Do you think I want to do something to you?” Liu Zhongming said.

Qu Chenzhou couldn’t say “no” and looked away.

“In fact, what I want to say is…” Liu Zhongming leaned in even closer, deliberately breathing hot air in his ear, “When we get to the Western Garden, let’s try not to go far. Besides us, there are two people who can help take care of you.”

“Jingchen?” Qu Chenzhou turned his head, saving his ear, but barely inches away from his nose. “Who else?”

“And your fortune.” Liu Zhongming whispered a name in a low voice.

“It’s not thanks to me, it’s just a small matter of breaking through a layer of window paper,” Qu Chenzhou smiled, “There will be more people standing by Shizi in the future.”

Liu Zhongming also smiled: “Exactly, your fortune. Let’s not speak of things far away, let’s wait for the rain first.”

A perfectly timed rain would bring two people to them at the same time.

The speed of the carriage began to slow down, and they would soon arrive at the West Garden.

Liu Zhongming looked out and picked up the earlier conversation: “Did you think I wanted to do something to you just now?”

Without waiting for a reply, he leaned down and whispered: “You guessed right.”

When they entered the West Garden, the Bai Family’s carriage had just arrived, and Bai Shiyan was standing near the side gate.

“Why are you only coming now?” He greeted them and pointed to the Moon Cave Gate nearby. “My mother is waiting for you over there.”

This was a pre-arranged excuse for them to bring Qu Chenzhou over to meet the world. But among their group of people, there were many mischievous children from prominent families who had heard of Qu Chenzhou’s reputation and didn’t know how to tease him.

Naturally, Madam Bai didn’t want Qu Chenzhou to follow her. They met briefly, and Qu Chenzhou stood behind her while Liu Zhongming and Bai Shiyan left.

“I saw it,” Bai Shiyan nudged Liu Zhongming with his elbow and twisted his lips, asking in a strange tone, “Was it also a misunderstanding?”

Liu Zhongming had a hint of a smile on his lips. “No, it wasn’t.”

Madam Bai had difficulty moving and was sitting on a spring chair, walking only half a circle before feeling tired and finding a room to rest in.

Not long after, the Empress sent someone to pass on a message that all the ladies were having tea nearby and asked Madam Bai to go over.

Madam Bai originally thought that Qu Chenzhou was there just to have fun and didn’t want him to follow her to deal with the dull socializing. She planned to have a maid lead the way.

But Qu Chenzhou tugged on her sleeve and wouldn’t let go.

“Madam, I’m scared.”

Madam Bai felt both amused and distressed. She was unwilling to let the person leave her side, and many of the ladies who came to the banquet brought their servants with them so she left only one maid to accompany her, and Qu Chenzhou followed her as well.

The Water Pavilion was not far away, surrounded by gauze curtains that filtered out the heat of the sun and made it feel like early spring inside. Qu Chenzhou didn’t dare to look up, but he caught a glimpse of the hem of Madam Bai’s dress from the corner of his eye. He recognized many of the ladies-in-waiting and court ladies, but not Liu Qingru, who was probably accompanying the emperor.

Madam Bai was about to bow, but the empress raised her hand to stop her. “No need for formalities,” she said, looking around. “Your body is heavy, and if it weren’t for tradition, we would be the ones visiting you.”

Madam Bai was helped to sit down and smiled, “I dare not trouble Your Majesty, and besides, I’m not that delicate.”

The empress had a soft cushion brought over for her to lean against and reminded her, “You must be careful since you’re carrying two bodies now. What did the doctor say, is it a boy or a girl?”

“It’s another little rascal,” Madam Bai replied with a smile, “Shining is very disappointed. Even Shiyan and Shilei complained, asking why it couldn’t be a little sister.”

“You see,” the empress said to those around her, “she doesn’t know how fortunate she is.”

Everyone joined in the teasing, and a young woman next to Madam Bai looked at her with envy and said, “Madam Bai is so lucky.”

“Thank you,” Madam Bai replied to her, “You’re still young, and you’ll have everything you want in the future.”

Although it was just polite conversation, everyone enjoyed hearing it. They exchanged auspicious words for a while and then the gauze curtains were lifted, and palace attendants entered one after another, serving warm tea.

Qu Chenzhou rushed forward and picked up a cup of tea from the tray, but as he turned around to offer it to Madam Bai, he accidentally stepped on his own hem and stumbled to the ground.

The entire cup of tea was spilled on Madam Bai, and she let out a small scream. The attendant by her side hurriedly wiped the tea stains off her dress. The Empress sitting at the head of the table was furious and shouted, “You worthless slave! Guards!”

“It’s alright,” Madam Bai interrupted the Empress’s anger despite being frightened. “Your Majesty, please calm down. The child has never seen the world before, and it’s natural to be nervous. Besides, I’m not hurt. I just need to change my clothes.”

The Empress stared coldly at Qu Chenzhou, who was kneeling on the ground without daring to lift his head.

“Yinger is too soft-hearted. These slaves are all cunning and vicious. They can’t stand to see others doing well. Let me tell you, they should be taken out and beaten to death with clubs to serve as a warning.”

Madam Bai laughed. “I’m afraid I can’t make that decision, Your Majesty. This child is from Zhongming’s House, and I brought him here today to play. I thought he was interesting and wanted to take a look.”

According to the laws of Da Yu, household slaves are the property of their masters. Unless they flee, their life and death are at the discretion of their masters.

The Empress had a thought. 

She had placed many people around her son, and naturally heard about Mu Jingzhao’s recent lack of appetite for tea and food because of a slave from a certain household. Now, hearing Madam Bai’s words, she remembered the incident.

“He’s from Zhongming’s House?” The Empress examined Qu Chenzhou from head to toe, only seeing the red string tied around his head with a lovesick vine attached to it. After a while, she ordered, “I’ve heard of him. It seems like he’s a rare beauty. Raise your head.”

Qu Chenzhou hesitated and remained motionless, quietly glancing at Madam Bai.

“That’s the Empress, Her Majesty,” Madam Bai secretly grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to her side, still smiling. “Raise your head and let the Empress have a look.”

Only then did Qu Chenzhou slowly lift his head, but kept his eyes down, too afraid to meet anyone’s gaze.

The empress scrutinized him closely, her thoughts unclear. Her expression gradually softened and everyone noticed a hint of a smile on her face. They all breathed a sigh of relief.

“I heard about him a few months ago but this is the first time I’ve seen him,” someone whispered with a light laugh. “I thought he was just a busybody but he’s actually quite impressive.”

“Everyone knows how picky Shizi is. If he’s not good, how could he possibly be interested?”

“It’s no wonder General Liao lost so badly. Shizi really keeps his people hidden.”

Someone lightly nudged the person speaking – they shouldn’t be discussing court matters, especially not about Liao Guangming.

“I heard from my nephew that Shizi is very strict with him. He doesn’t even let outsiders touch him,” someone quickly interjected. “He’s also very strict with him, always scolding and punishing him for the slightest mistake.”

“What nonsense,” the empress sneered. “He’s just disciplining a lowly slave. What’s so strict about that?”

The person being scolded just smiled and lowered their head. The empress noticed the red marks on Qu Chenzhou’s lips and said in a slow voice, “Zhongming really knows how to train people. He’s also very well-behaved. Look up, I heard Jingzhao once talk about this child’s pair of eyes.”

Qu Chenzhou paused for a moment, and after a gentle push from Madam Bai, he slowly looked up and gazed at the empress.

Meeting an old acquaintance without any attachment, he only heard someone whispering in his ear.

“Quick, run!”

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